Disingenuousness and “Expansion” Language

A Plea For Plain-Speaking

I am considering this matter of plain speaking in theological discourse, and have noted my dislike of those views which put something in a such way that it is easy to mistake the intentions.  We are used to being given the run-around by the Cults – for they deal in duplicity – but evangelical brothers and sisters can do this sort of thing too.  I only wish to issue a plea for plain-speaking.

Any “liberal” scholar will attest to the fact that the Four Gospels report that Jesus performed many miracles.  They admit this because the texts of the Gospels SAY SO.  Then they proceed to undermine the reliability of these reports so as to disbelieve what they know the Evangelists say.  There are assumptions that get in the way: the laws of nature (so-called); Hume’s and Kant’s critiques; ideas about the overlay of myths, etc.  And while we strongly repudiate the fallacies which inhere in these liberal assumptions, at least they tell us what the text is saying!  There is little prevarication about the wording of the text.  At least we can agree on that!

Sad to say, it is not always so easy when one is dealing with supercessionists.  Although they are not all guilty of it, many of them – in both Reformed and Non-Reformed camps – are hard to deal with when it comes to admitting what many prophetic and salvation texts say.

But my “gripe” here is with what I really see as disingenuousness in modern “replacement” theology [how they dislike that term.  But I do not use it pejoratively].

“Expansion” or Something Else?

As I pinpointed towards the end of my last post, those who nowadays like to talk so smoothly about the “expansion” of Israel’s promises in the OT exemplify what I am on about.  Consider this:

In my view, these land promises [in the OT] will yet be fulfilled, only more so. That is, the land has been expanded to the whole earth, and Israel has been expanded from merely the ethnic descendants (while not excluding an ethnic remnant, even as is so today) to include spiritual descendants as well. (Although I do think Romans 11 makes it clear that a time will come when the Gentiles largely reject the gospel, only for it to return to many of those who self-identify as Jews.)

This snippet came as a response to a question about what Genesis 15:8-21  and Jeremiah 33:14-26 say.  Please read the above quotation carefully and compare it with the two OT passages.  What this person asserts has the result of the specific land promised to a specific ethnic group being transformed into a non-specific land (the whole earth) given to a homogenous multi-ethnic “spiritual Israel.”  And this is quite a restrained example.  At least this individual believes (or says he believes, one would have to press him further on this) that the “land” is literal land on this earth.  Now this would be what one could call an “expansion,” but only as long as the party being promised is the party receiving the promise!

That, of course, is always where the problem lies.  And that is precisely why this “expansion” language, if it were true, would have misled many of God’s people.  God would be promising literal land to the ethnic descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (even going so far as to designate Israel as “Jacob”  – Isa. 27:6; 43:1, 22; Psa. 135:4), when, in reality, He would know that He wasn’t making the promises with those whom He was speaking to but to the Church.  (We shall see in the next post that this has serious ramifications for the Doctrine of God!).

But most will go further than this and say that the “land” is not any physical geographical location at all.  It is heaven.  Very often Hebrews 11:10, 14-16; 12:22 are trotted out to “prove” this.  Of course, Abraham himself was told directly that he would not inherit the land himself, but his descendents would.  The reference in 12:22 is a contrast with Mt. Sinai, not with the Promised Land.  That fact should alert us to possible wrong applications.  It is a difficult passage, but it should not be interpreted as saying that we all finally spend eternity in Heaven.  As commonplace as that belief is, it is not supported in the Bible (cf. e.g., Rev. 21:2-3, 10, 24).

There are some, like Hoekema, who teach that these promises will be realized upon the new earth.  But they only get there by turning ethnic Israel into the Church (or the other way round, which is the same thing), and rejecting plain-sense interpretations of OT covenants in context.

False Analogies

A common approach is to use analogies.  So Robert Strimple, for example, spins a yarn about a father who promises his son some “wheels” and when the time comes around the father presents the young man with a Ferrari!  (See Strimple’s essay on “Amillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock, 99-100).

But this is not an altogether reputable move; for in the story the father (apart from lacking common sense!) promises, not a bicycle or moped, but “wheels.”  The son’s expectations might very well have been much lower than a Ferrari.  But he did get what was promised, not something else (like a yacht  – no wheels!).  That could rightly be termed an “expansion.”  Furthermore, the one to whom the promise was made was the one who received the prize.

So what Strimple’s example ends up doing is actually reinforcing the importance of keeping one’s promise to the one to whom it is made!  If he had been more forthcoming, Strimple would have had another young man receiving a yacht or a home, or something without wheels, while the son would have gotten Nada!

Thus, the true analogy shows up the deceptiveness, not just of the father in the story, but, alas, the one who used a false analogy!  This is not “expansion.”  This is wholesale alteration.

Expansion normally involves making one state of affairs extend to become an enlarged version of the same thing.  Thus, a business expands, not by changing into another business, but by growing in its production and market share, and/or moving into other areas of output.   It is still the same business, but it has grown (it may eventually morph out of its original aims into something else, but this is admitted to be a “change” or “transformation” into something new).

Similarly, when Persia or Greece or Rome expanded their empires, they did not cease to be what they were and become something else.  But their empires and influence and power grew.

In Scripture itself one recognizes the same pattern.  The “rock cut out without hands” in Daniel 2 expands to cover the whole earth.  It is the same rock.  It is the same Person (Christ in His reign).

Two Psalms

“My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of my lips” – Psalm 89:34

In context this unalterable word refers to the Davidic covenant.  Here is an even clearer statement:

“O seed of Abraham His servant, You children of Jacob, His chosen ones!  He is the LORD [YHWH] our God… He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance…'” – Psalm 105:6-11.

But according to our supercessionist friends this “covenant” is fulfilled by Christ and those “in Christ.”  Therefore, the “land of Canaan” which God took an oath to give to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, will not be given to them “forever.”  In fact, they have no claim to the land even now!  God’s oath, according to supercessionists, does not mean what it says.

“Ah, but it means more!” comes the reply.  Not to literal Israel it doesn’t.  And if it meant more why didn’t God say that?  Why would He use language calculated to mislead His people?   Some of the brethren evidence a strange resistance to words like “change” or “alteration” when it comes to God’s promises.  The question is, “Why?”  And what does this mean in the way one thinks about God?

That will be the burden of the next post...

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14 comments

  1. Paul, how would you address the arguments of the likes of Burge and Sizer who insist that Israel has lost rights to the land due to disobedience? They insist that the Abrahamic Covenant was conditional.

  2. Paul, as I read your articles (very stimulating – thanks!) I believe you are continuing to misrepresent the faithfulness of CT hermeneutics and are not dealing honestly with the SAME problems in your modified dispensational camp. It is my opinion that you and I can both point to faithful exegesis in our study of Scripture AND places where we “bend” to fit our theological convictions.

    Do you know why CT do not use nor care for your continual use of “replacement” theology? It is because that is not what is believed nor taught. A much more accurate term would be “fulfilled” theology. Why? Because the issue as defined for example by the text of Ephesians 2:11 and following is NOT the replacement of one group for another but a fulfillment of the OT promises in the NT as God has wiped out the division and created a new entity in the new covenant. As you and I have shared, it comes down to the arena of hermeneutics . . .

    Take for example the passage mentioned above (Deuteronomy 4:25-31), it is in my conviction, a great example of God fulfilling His promises to “ethnic” Israel in the restoration found in the gospel ministry beginning in Acts 2. This in my mind does nothing but EXALT the character of God in the fulfillment of His promised restoration of the nation of Israel.

    As you stated there are many examples like this where you and I would disagree – my position beleiving that many of the OT passages were fulfilled in the NT and you believing that many of the OT passages are going to be fulfilled at a later date. A very popular passage which would demonstrate this is Joel 2 and it’s relationship to Acts 2. Though Peter (and the language of the text) explain the events of Pentecost being a fulfillment of Joel’s prophetic vision – the response of my DT to sight a partial fulfilment or a future fulfillment is problematic at best.

    To characterize CT as being unfaithful in the handling of the text of Scripture weakens the integrity of your position. I think it would be best to explain your understanding of the texts of Scripture and allow the Spirit of God to do what He does best (yes, I am a presuppositionalist and believe that many polemic books are unhelpful . . . because they put too much empasis on the error . . . which rarely is faithfully represented).

    Thanks for the time,
    Christian

  3. Christian,

    The interpretive techniques of replacement theology rely upon extreme elasticity – which your Joel-Acts example illustrates perfectly:

    The portions of the passage from Joel explicitly cited by Peter in Acts 2 predict: 1) spirit poured out; 2) sons and daughters prophesy; 3) young men see visions; 4) old men dream dreams; 5) wonders in heaven shown; 6) signs in the earth (blood, fire, vapor of smoke); 7) sun turned into darkness. The events actually recorded in Acts 2 include: #1, and possibly #2 (a stretch, but granted for the sake of argument). Peter then relates the two by saying, “this is that” which many CTs then assert means “fulfillment.”

    Paying attention to the details, we have 1, or possibly 2 out of 7 predictions from Joel which actually occur in some form in Acts 2. A hermeneutical approach with asserts 14-28% correlation as ‘fulfillment’ is simply too sloppy to be convincing to many of us. Such an approach to interpretation reduces God’s prophetic fore view into ‘Swiss cheese.’

    This business of prophetic precision has a lot to do with why DTs like myself continue to find CT assertions of ‘fulfillment’ unconvincing. Many CTs so want to find premature fulfillment that they are willing to gloss over the details which indicate “it ain’t so.” Other illustrations, from among many which could be given, which fit here are God’s promises at the end of Amos in regard to the Promised Land (Amos 9:14-15) and Jesus’ promise to the 12 disciples that they will judge over the tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28; Lu 22:30).

    As for whether the phrase ‘replacement theology’ is a fair representation of this technique, I maintain that it is because replacement takes place. Not only the replacement of Israel with the Church, but the replacement of specific predictions made by God with vague, shadowy imitations. The main problem with replacement theology is that it practices a hermeneutic of denial in an attempt to unseat that which God has said and substitute a cheap imitation which denies the plain language of the passages involved.

    In the end, this becomes an impossible task since the divine is in the details.

  4. Christian,

    I appreciate a dissenting voice. Allow me to cite one of your fellows:

    “The community of believers has in all respects replaced carnal, national Israel. The Old Testament is fulfilled in the New.” – H. Bavinck, “Reformed Dogmatics,” Vol.4, 667.

    I could add to this with quotes from Woudstra, Ridderbos, Waltke, Calvin, etc. So it is not I who have misunderstood what CT’s teach on this issue. I am aware that some CT’s avoid replacement language in favor of “expansion” or “typological” language, but it comes out the same way.

    I also know that some CT’s (probably yourself) adopt a kind of inclusionist program wherein the Gentile Church is merged into the Jewish Church. But this needs to be identified for what it is: i.e., the morphing or changing or alteration of one thing (ethnic Israel) into another thing (the Body of Christ).

    The hermeneutical maneuvers involved are first a rejection of the plain sense in the original context. Then the adoption of typological and spiritual and allegorical hermeneutics (whichever works to arrive at the desired sense) based upon theological a priori.

    I do not think that you are self-critical enough to see this. Granted, DT’s have not always stood up to the texts the way they should, but at least their hermeneutics can show them that fact. You know you have an advocate in me if you complain that the Bible should not be understood in light of seven dispensations. True. But much Reformed exegesis is a wax nose because it turns from literal to symbolic to allegorical hermeneutics whenever the swap from one to the other is needed.

    My next post takes up an even more serious problem which I should be happy to have your thoughts on.

    God bless you and yours,

    Paul

  5. Let me try to quickly respond to some of your comments…

    Tony, if we were to take the text of Acts 2 “literally” the first challenge an expositor has to deal with is the text “…this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel…” (and I wouldn’t mind walking through the other portions at a later time). If we are to interpret this text accurately, you would exegetically have to deal with the fact that in the original, Peter as he explains the events states clearly that Joel’s prophecy WAS FULFILLED at the events surrounding Pentecost. Peter leaves no room for a partial or future fulfillment and so I (as a committed biblicist) has to discern from grammar/syntax/context/etc. how the NT explains the meaning of the OT. The “elasticity” of my DT commentaries leaves my shaking my head . . . saying we have problems in the house 😉

    Tony, as to your thoughts on “replacement” language, one quick question – “Have you ever sat down with a brother who holds to a covenent perspective and dialogued over Scripture with their exegetical convictions?” I only ask this because what I see articulated here in this blogspot is foreign to what I believe, would articulate or see in the lineage of pastors and theologians argued against. For example, your use of “replacement” – there has been only ONE people of God – some were grafted out and some were grafted in. Distinctions of national or ethnic heritage have been obliterated in the NT as there are now no distinctions between Jew/Gentile. The difference is that we see the faithfulness of God’s promises being fulfilled in the Church, Christ’s Body and not ethnic Israel (whatever that might be).

    Paul, descriptions such as inclusionist, merged, morphing, changing, altering, etc. – simply are not biblical nor do they reresent the exegetical explainations found in the NT which answer questions as to how God’s plan of salvation relates to Israel (ethnic, biological, genetic, etc.). I have used this illustration before and so you might have to adapt it to those who discipled you in the faith but when I take John MacArthur’s commentary on Romans 9-11 and highlight in yellow his own “hermeneutical maneuvers”, I too am reminded of a hermentic of denial (thanks Tony!).

    Paul, I am the first to state I don’t have the answers to every question, and love critiquing my presuppostions as they hit the Word of God. I am not sure that agreeing the silliness of the “seven dispensations” model proves your own teachability. As I have lived now in both camps, I can note weaknesses on both sides . . . and would only say to those who find agreement with you . . . take the time to seek those who have become convinced of the glory of God in the Church, get a couple of coffees, Bibles, and explore Scripture.

  6. Christian,

    A few thoughts in reply.

    You seem to have this idea that anyone who holds a dispensational viewpoint of the scriptures is simply ignorant of how reasonable and careful his brothers are who “hold to a covenant perspective” having never dialogued over Scripture. This is simply false. In my case, I was born-again in a Pentecostal covenant fellowship which taught replacement theology exclusively and that is what I was raised on–until I began learning that Scripture says otherwise. You can believe I had quite a number of dialogues with brothers who saw it differently–especially the pastor of the church which was my spiritual father. Suffice it to say that after 5 years I finally had enough and moved elsewhere to fellowships where they let the word “Israel” continue to have its normative meaning, even in the NT.

    You re-assert that there has only ever been “ONE people of God” and then take the same avenue many feminist egalitarians take, abusing the context of Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 as if equality before God regarding access to and means of salvation erases all role distinctions–which clearly does not hold from the many texts which uphold male/female and slave/free roles. When both men and women “in Christ” are equally accepted by Scripture to serve as elders, then I’ll start listening to your assertion more seriously.

    You state there are now “no distinctions between Jew/Gentile.” But Jesus’ statement concerning the condition that would hold after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD indicates otherwise: “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jesus calls our times “the times of the Gentiles.” Of course a standard evasion is that this only refers to unbelievers where the Gentile/Jew distinction is still allowed to hold. But that isn’t how the term Gentile is used in this context: it simply means that non-Jewish powers will interfere with Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem until this time period comes to a close (whereupon a Davidic King will sit on His throne in Jerusalem). Besides, some number of those who are in complete support of interfering with Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem are themselves believers–holding to replacement theology 🙂 Yes, the term “Gentile” here simply means “non-Jew,” regardless of spiritual regeneration.

    Contrary to your assertions, I don’t see anything in Acts 2 which infers that Peter states “clearly that Joel’s prophecy WAS FULFILLED.” You might be convinced, but many other careful readers are not. Not only is Peter’s reference to Joel not meant as a fulfillment, as I pointed out the correlation between Joel and Acts is fragmentary at best–at least if we keep our exegetical feet on the ground and don’t lift off in flights of spiritualization.

  7. Christian,

    One other comment you make that I find interesting: “The difference is that we see the faithfulness of God’s promises being fulfilled in the Church, Christ’s Body and not ethnic Israel (whatever that might be).”

    If you want to understand what “ethnic Israel” might be, I suggest you consider the Bible as an authoritative source:

    “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Ro 9:3-5)

    “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Ro 11:13-15)

    “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. (Ro 11:26-28)

    Seems pretty plain if we let the text speak for itself. Ethnic Israel is the only Israel and consists of the physical descendants of Jacob (just like Paul). Moreover, those who lack faith are nonbelieving enemies of the gospel — yet still referred to as “Israel.” Paul even takes pains to qualify his use of the term “Israel” to be doubly sure folks like yourself won’t morph the meaning of “Israel” into “the people of faith” regardless of ethnicity–which is why he says “my countrymen according to the flesh” and “those who are my flesh”.

    The Biblical definition of “ethnic Israel” is those who are of the physical lineage of Jacob–like Paul–regardless of faith. So the only reason that ethnicity ever has to enter the picture is to anchor the text to avoid people hijacking the meaning by spiritualizing it into “all believers.”

  8. Thanks Tony for the response. Much to say. But since I have to go run a paint crew and have 30 seconds to respond, you still have hinted that the very thing you level against me you are guilty of yourself. For example, in Acts 2, in the plain sense, literal interpretation of Peter’s response to Pentecost he points to the events as being the definitie fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. The explainations of my DT commentaries simply play fast and loose with the text of Scripture by stating Peter didn’t really mean what he said. You too have an eschatolgical model that you bend Scripture too. But more later over coffee 😉
    jch

  9. Interesting dialogue. Mike Vlach deals with the Acts-Joel dilemma in his “Has the Church Replaced Israel?” pp 117-118 for those who have that book. Arnold Fruchtenbaum also addresses it on 844 of “Israelology”. I don’t see this as a sample case for declaring that the NT redefines the OT. That would raise more serious issues – which Paul is highlighting in the current series.

  10. Hi Alf,

    Thanks for the pointers. (Rather than taking this on I need to learn to summarize more and point to other resources who have dealt with the issue in great detail already. 🙂 ) Enough to say that the passages that Christian has offered up (whether Joel-Acts or Malachi-Matthew regarding Elijah/John) can be understood in other ways than he strongly asserts so a dogmatic assertion of “non-literal fulfillment” is neither the only, or in my view best, solution.

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